Refusing to Regenerate – Why is Peter Capaldi Hanging on?
The end of the latest series of Doctor Who had the Twelfth Doctor refusing to change, stopping his own regeneration. The official synopsis to this year’s Christmas special, Twice Upon a Time, seems to continue on this theme.
Two Doctors stranded in a forbidding snowscape, refusing to face regeneration. And a British army captain seemingly destined to die in the First World War, but taken from the trenches to play his part in the Doctor’s story. This is the magical last chapter in the Twelfth Doctor’s epic adventure. He must face his past to decide his future. And the Doctor will realise the resilience of humanity, discovering hope in his darkest frozen moment. It’s the end of an era. But the Doctor’s journey is only just beginning.
But all of this begs the question: why?
I didn’t want to change, why would I?
When the Tenth Doctor uttered his last words, ‘I don’t want to go‘ it came with a lot of textual and emotional baggage. We had seen how much this incarnation of the Doctor relished this persona. It wasn’t simply a matter of not wanting to die, but a sense of losing who he was.
“Even if I change, if feels like dying. Everything I am dies. Some new man goes sauntering away… and I’m dead.”
We had also seen the Tenth Doctor refuse to change before. In The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End, when faced with regeneration, the Tenth Doctor siphoned off his regeneration energy into his ‘handy spare hand’ to avoid changing his appearance. “I didn’t want to. Why would I? Look at me!” he says.
There were other hints at this part of the Tenth Doctor’s character, too. In Time Crash, when he meets the Fifth Doctor he expresses his love of being that persona, too. There is relish in his voice as he recounts how much he loved ‘being you’.
The Tenth Doctor put a lot of value on being who he was, so when the time came, it made sense for him to lament the change. Having seen his outburst at facing his demise, having seen him relish his selfhood, having had it as a common theme and character flaw for the Tenth Doctor, when he didn’t want to go, there was precedent.
So what of the Twelfth Doctor?
Why don’t you want to go?
Capaldi has been a great Doctor, in my opinion. He has clearly worked his socks off and brought warmth to an initially cold characterisation. I am reminded of Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor in some ways – that the character shifted over time to fit better with the actor’s vision.
However, I find it hard to see why exactly this particular Doctor is so resistant to the idea of change. Indeed, it seems all the more perplexing after his encounter not only with the Cybermen, but also the Master in two different forms. He has seen Missy change, from the Simm incarnation, and also as a person. Indeed, much of the last series was about change, and how good it can be.
For this Doctor to so suddenly be so resilient to change is greatly puzzling. We haven’t seen Capaldi’s Doctor particularly relish his current life, and he has also been slightly glib about regeneration in, for example, Kill the Moon.
What plot points, or character arcs have been leading up to this? Where has been the development that would show Twelve becoming more and more set on staying in this body? Certainly nothing overt.
This isn’t to say this is a theme or idea that shouldn’t be explored. But the story hasn’t earned it. There’s no weight behind it because this isn’t an issue we’ve seen this Doctor wrestle with on any level until now.
Feeding a Fire
There is a danger, too, of feeding the fire of a certain portion of people who have been adamantly against the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor. To have a breakthrough of this magnitude, and an issue that has brought out some truly horrible people scuttling from the woodworks, I am concerned. I am concerned that seeing a male Doctor spend time refusing to regenerate into a woman may feed some of those fires.
This is perhaps the easiest issue to address, though. I feel fairly sure the entire point of the story will be about the Doctor accepting change and moving on. It will be a build up and pay off of the Doctor learning that change happens and it is for the best. After that, Jodie will bounce onto our screens and into our hearts.
The issue is more about how this has been done. I think it’s a bit of laziness on Steven Moffat’s part. Or, perhaps, the fact that he hadn’t foreseen that he would be doing this Christmas Special and therefore hadn’t prepared a particularly overarching theme that tied into what had gone before with Capaldi’s Doctor.
What do you think? Has there been enough build up to justify Peter Capaldi’s Doctor refusing to regenerate? Is it a part of his Doctor?